- A version of this post first appeared on ZZoccolante.com
Help it. It’s struggling.
The little chick picks at the interior of the egg that holds it captive. Peck by peck it labors to push its body through the crack. Its wings flap, frantic and wobbly, exhausted with the first moments of life.
It would be so easy for us to simply peel away the thin exoskeleton that holds the little bird captive. The thin shell of an egg is all that separates it from freedom. It pains me to watch the baby bird struggle. I want to lend a hand. It would be so easy for me to help.
And yet if I did, the bird would die. As the bird struggles to exit the egg, it pumps blood through its wings, the blood that means the difference between survival or death. Without this necessary step, the bird’s wings would not be strong enough and it would die.
If I helped the little bird, I would be writing its death sentence.
At 24, when I first heard this analogy in the book Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, it showed me that struggle was not this big bad thing people often make it out to be. Struggle is okay, and sometimes necessary.
Recently, I’ve been fascinated with the definition of terms. The words we use and the definitions we paint directly correlate to how we see and experience the world.
Take the word love for example. There are many ways in which we all define that four-letter word. A lot of it is based on our past experiences, and the filters (or sunglasses) through which we see the world.
Take the word selfish. Many of us may have been called this in an attempt to guilt us when we do something that someone else doesn’t like. During the course of my almost divorce, I redefined and thus came to love this word, because yes, I was selfish. I was willing to do whatever it took to take care of myself first. My definition of the word wasn’t something bad, or something to be ashamed of. Instead it pushed me onward towards the person I needed to be for myself.
Let’s look at the word struggle. Maybe you have a visceral reaction to this word, that it’s a “bad thing” to struggle, that it’s painful. Perhaps you’ve even constructed a belief that it’s cruel to sit on the sidelines and watch something struggle, that you must help because suffering is a big bad thing.
Sure, the definition of struggle implies that there is an element of force or violence, but go with me on this . . .
Let’s pretend that we don’t have a word for “struggle” in our vocabulary. What if when we saw the tiny bird, we saw movement.
“Look, the little bird is moving.”
What if we saw inside the egg and someone thought the motion of its wings looked like a dance.
“Look, the little bird is dancing.”
We are the ones that define our terms. What if struggle, simply looked like movement, or like dancing. What if struggle was seen as nothing more than continued movement?
When we see movement, we interpret it as struggle and have a desire to step in and “save.”
Notice how I said “save.” The word save is very different from the word help. There are definitely situations that call for saving, like immediate danger. I’m talking about the situations when lending a hand doesn’t help the person in the long run.
I have a phrase I’ve said for years. “I don’t need to be saved, just helped.” Bailing people out of their bad decisions and not allowing them to pay the consequences of their actions, does not help them in the long run. One of my definitions of love is being strong enough to sit with someone in their suffering, without bailing them out. Sitting there is more difficult than helping, but if done with love, will allow the other person to grow strong on their own, with strength that’s sustainable.
The next time you have the desire to step in and help, think about whether that’s the most compassionate thing.
What if the most compassionate help was to sit there, to watch, to support, to sit with them in love, to say things like,
“I believe in you.”
“I trust that you can figure this out.”
“You can do this.”
We are stronger and more resourceful than we think. Sometimes all we need is the encouragement to dig within ourselves, to move and to dance, and to pump blood through our wings, so we will be able to fly the distance.
With Love, Z 🙂
Also by Z: 6 Ways to Be Happy When Others Succeed
Photo: I Am Ming via Flickr